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Getting Young Athletes ‘Back in the Game’ After Concussion

Joanne Gerstner with book cover

If a young person participating in sports suffers a concussion, it does not automatically mean the end of her or his athletic experience.

This is the message of a new book, co-authored by a Michigan State University journalism faculty member, that serves as a resource for anyone involved in youth sports, whether it be player, coach, administrator or parent.

“Back in the Game: Why Concussion Doesn’t Have to End Your Athletic Career” was written by Joanne Gerstner, sports writer in residence in MSU’s School of Journalism, and Jeffrey Kutcher, an internationally recognized sports neurologist.

“It’s estimated that 40 million children under the age of 18 play sports in the United States,” Gerstner said. “We’ve been concerned about concussions in terms of professional athletes. But in reality we should be equally concerned about children’s brain health in sporting activities.”

Gerstner and Kutcher explain how parents, coaches and youth athletes need greater understanding about concussion, both to spur prevention and to help improve the diagnostic and healing processes. Concussion, said Gerstner, “is something not to be feared wholesale, rather a neurological injury that always needs to be taken seriously in athletes from kids to professionals.”

Written in an easy-to-understand style, “Back in the Game’s” mission is to de-mystify what a concussion is, how it can be prevented and, if it does happen, how it can be properly treated. The book also discusses post-concussion syndrome, depression and ways coaches and athletes can advocate for improved awareness.

“Yes, you can get hurt playing sports,” Gerstner said. “But you can be concussed, get treated properly with coaches, parents and doctors all on the same team, and you can go back and play.”

The world of youth sports can be a rough one, as participants are bigger, stronger and faster than they were not all that long ago. The games are also taken much more seriously, with many athletes, and their parents, seeing sports as a possible road to riches or, at the very least, a college scholarship.

“There is a culture of being more aggressive, because the aggressive person wins,” she said. “That aggression, if not coached properly, or if kids don’t have the right equipment or the right body awareness, that’s when injuries can happen.”

With the proper coaching and medical care, Gerstner said youth sports can be highly beneficial to the kids.

“Aside from the physical aspect of it, there is the getting out there and doing something, enhanced self-esteem, learning how to win and lose and being part of a team,” she said. “These all pay dividends later in life.”

Gerstner is an award-winning sports journalist, focusing on international athletics and sports neurology. She was the first sports journalist in the world to win a Jacobs Fellowship, where she focused on youth sports and brain development in 2015. She also is a former Knight-Wallace sports journalism fellow at the University of Michigan, where she studied sports neurology.

To order the book, go to Amazon at http://amzn.to/2aQbNhS.

– Tom Oswald, Joanne Gerstner via MSU Today

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